One of the consequences of transformations in Spanish land properties in the 19th century was the constitution of an extensive (6.6 million hectares) public forest patrimony —still kept— dependent on the Central Administration. In this article, an overview of the main features, as well as the management and production forms of such a patrimony, is presented. State intervention is divided into four stages and, considering their results rather than their initial goals, two main conclusions are reached. First, given their characteristics, public forests were not adequate for the government to be able to lead this part of the forest national economy. Second, the central administration applied not one but several public forest policies, according to changes in the markets and to the economic situation, and social and ecological conditions where forests were found.